President Obama has arrived at the G20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, amid heated debate over whether to take military action in Syria. Russian President Vladimir Putin has said has said American military action on Syria would be an "aggression," and though Obama and Putin will not have one-on-one talks, an adviser said they would "have interactions." The first interaction, snapped by CNBC reporter Eamon Javers Thursday morning, looked a little intense:
The handshake everyone was waiting for. Putin greets Obama in St. Petersburg, Russia. pic.twitter.com/rnHrT7UUew— Eamon Javers (@EamonJavers) September 5, 2013
Business Insider calls it a "Historic Death Stare." In other photos (below right via Associated Press) Obama puts on a friendlier face. According to the White House pool report, they appeared pleasant but not overly friendly.
Obama deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said on Thursday, "we would not anticipate every member of the G20 agreeing about the way forward in Syria, particularly given the Russian position." Syria isn't even a topic for discussion at the summit, though sideline conversations have occurred (and will continue to).
The relationship between Obama and Putin is still shaky over Russia giving asylum to NSA leaker Edward Snowden. And Putin says there's not enough evidence that Assad's regime carried out a chemical weapons attack on its people. Their relationship was made more awkward by the fact that U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel alleged that Russia could have provided Syria with the chemical weapons used in the attack (the Pentagon then clarified his statements). Obama adviser Ben Rhodes does not think Putin is going to change his mind anytime soon:
We’ll continue to discuss with the Russians what our evidentiary basis is and what our – our degree of confidence in the fact that the Assad regime carried this out. But again, what we do not want to see is some ongoing debate about whether or not a chemical weapons attack took place that everybody saw with their own eyes on August 21 and similarly, we don’t want to entertain implausible theories.
In fact, Putin is talking about sending representatives to lobby U.S. lawmakers against the use of force next week.
On Thursday, China came out fully in support of Russia. Chinese Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao said in a briefing, "military action would have a negative impact on the global economy, especially on the oil price - it will cause a hike in the oil price." Putin (right) shook hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping before a meeting on Thursday.
Obama did secure support from one more nation — Japan. He met with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday, who shares his view that chemical weapons use in Syria violates international norms and must be addressed. Abe told Obama, "I certainly look forward to continuously and closely working with you to improve the situation on the ground." Obama called the U.S.-Japan relationship a "cornerstone of peace around the world." National Security Advisor Susan Rice was at Obama's side during the meeting.
A U.S. Senate panel voted to approve military action in Syria as a response to the chemical weapons attack. The measure, which allows the use of force for 60 days with a possibility of adding 30 more, will move to a full Senate vote next week. In the meantime, Obama will try to convince whoever he can that limited military action is necessary to preserve international norms against chemical weapons use.
(Middle right and bottom right photos via Reuters.)